By on November 28, 2011

Jeff writes:

I have owned my 1965 Mustang convertible for 30 years. It has a problem that puzzles my trusted mechanic and me. The right front wheel cover rotates on the rim, counter-clockwise, as I drive, which pinches the valve stem in about 50 miles. I have swapped wheel covers and had the tire remounted on the spare’s rim with no joy. There is no vibration felt in the body or steering wheel or body when driving, nor is there any uneven wear on the tire.


Sajeev Answers:

Quoting the great Ned Flanders, “As the tree said to the lumberjack, “I’m stumped.”

This shouldn’t happen. And while vintage steel wheels don’t have the torsional rigidity of the newest, latest CAD inspired unit, the wheel cap shouldn’t spin around like a centrifuge when you hit a bump. But maybe it does.

I have two bits of advice, the first is free and possibly helpful, while the second could very well fix it.

1. Pull off all the wheel caps and use a pair of pliers to “open the mouth” of the clips that hold the cap to the wheel. There are multiple tabs with “mouths” around the circumference of the cap, they all need a slight bend to get the mouth opening bigger, pressing stronger against the steel wheel. But only a slight bend! No need to induce further metal fatigue to a 46-year-old piece of metal.

2. Replace one (or more) steel wheel with an aftermarket reproduction…or a similar unit from a 1980s vintage Ford Fox Body. The Fox wheels have 20 years less metal fatigue, look significantly more efficient which–if they are anything like the Ford Fairmont from whence they came–might be from computer assisted design. I assume you have 14” wheels with 4 lugs, therefore the base hoops from any Fox Body Ford give you a fair shot at having a stronger, less-flexy wheel…hell, it might even be a touch lighter for less unsprung weight!

Send your queries to [email protected] . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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28 Comments on “Piston Slap: It Ain’t Easy Being on the Front Right, either!...”

  • avatar

    Chrome 20s… fixed…

  • avatar

    Baby Moons. Fixed!

  • avatar

    Sajeev’s suggestion #1 is the right answer, particularly with the ’65 Mustang’s wire wheel covers (which are HEAVY). I re-jigger the spring clips every time I remove one on my ’65.

    Incidentally, V8-powered ’65s-’67s have a 5×4.5″ bolt pattern on a 14″ wheel; 6-cylinder cars have a 4×4.5″ bolt pattern (and had 13″ wheels, 14s optional). Don’t think the Fox-body wheels will bolt up to an early car.

  • avatar

    The fact that you have owned this 46 year old car for 30 years indicates you are taking too good care of it. Wheel covers are designed to be used on rusty wheels, which as we all know, have a much higher coefficient of friction than clean or painted metal.

    Quit taking care of the car and the problem will go away. You could also try getting a little salt on it this winter like the rest of us.

  • avatar

    Your car is trying to tell you that it wants spinners !

  • avatar
    Firestorm 500

    Jeff’s car appears to be a V-8. V-8 Mustangs have the 5 lug on 4 1/2″ bolt circle. The Fox-era wheels are all 4 lug. Even if Jeff’s car was a six-cylinder, the 4 lug wheels they used have a different bolt circle than the later Fox-era wheels.

    The hubcap is not rotating on bumps. Due to inertia when stopping, the hubcap wants to keep moving in a forward direction. The deceleration forces acting on the wheel and tire are actually in a “backward” or reverse direction. This has the effect of the hubcap appearing to rotate in a counterclockwise direction.

    The solution to gently bend the tabs just a little bit on each one is good. You can also run a couple of plastic ties through the hubcaps and the slots in the wheel to stop the creep.

  • avatar

    After fifty miles, this car is screaming to be driven in reverse fifty miles.

  • avatar

    If all else fail, here’s a fix:

    Try putting a bead of silicone cement on the wheel rim before you put on the hub cap. The silicone will be pliable enough to allow removal of the hub caps next time you need to change a wheel.

    • 0 avatar

      I was thinking along the same lines, however, make that an interrupted bead, else the wheel covers will trap water.

      Not that it helps this particular situation, but occasionally these covers fly off. Consider adding two tie-wraps per wheel to keep the cap on the wheel if it becomes loose. (with all the budget problems, the roads in the USA are going to be deteriorating for the foreseeable future.)

      Funny thing, I remember observing this phenomenon as a boy, was mildly curious about it, but that was long before I became an engineer so I never thought much about how a steel wheel might flex. What I did notice, however, is how that the stem would arrest this relative motion but usually at the cost of the jacket of the stem being cut; never knew of a tire losing air because of it.

      Good luck.

      • 0 avatar

        What’s even funnier is if you put the metal sleeve over the valve stem, the wheel cover will catch on the cap and rip the stem clean off the wheel. I’ve had that happen a few times to me.

    • 0 avatar

      My parent’s 83 Nissan pickup had the plastic center caps that would rattle as they flopped back and forth a bit at low speeds. My father cured it with 2 spots of silicone after a trip for tires as well.

  • avatar

    So are you running radial tires? If so change back to bias ply problem solved. Or get modern wheels designed to handle the cornering loads that radial tires can generate. Carefully tweaking the clips might help.

  • avatar

    +1 on gently tweaking the wheel cover clips. Then try changing out that wheel with the spare and see if the problem persists. Third, slow down in the turns!

    The original Mustangs are one of the easiest classic cars to keep on the road due to the wide availability of replacement parts. In my neighborhood, this is the place which has just about everything you could ever need for one:

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    No advice, just a comment that d*mn, that’s a good looking car. I forgot just how good looking those first gen ‘stangs were.

  • avatar

    Get some REAL wire wheels. Dayton makes them to fit many bolt patterns, no Rudge-Whitworth splined hub required.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis


    Lots of spin?

    On the left front, you say?

    Your Mustang is a verdamt liberal democrat! To the crusher it must go immediately….

  • avatar
    Firestorm 500

    No, he said right front.

  • avatar

    Advice 1 : Zip Ties.
    Advice 2 : Remove the wheel covers and polish the wheels with Aluminum Oxide coating or just black.

  • avatar

    Put these on it, good luck getting metric sized tires for under $300/ea though lol

  • avatar

    Okay, you tried different caps and different wheels. So try swapping the drums, left to right. Are you using the right torque values?

  • avatar

    If this was my car I’d put the original type styled steel wheels on it. Congrats on keeping this car for so long. Most people get bored with a car after a few years, sell it and then regret it later. Ask me how I know.×5-all-chrome

  • avatar

    Nice Mustang, if that one is yours. Even if that one isn’t yours, great choice of cars you made. No solution for your dilemma, but I wish that I had your problem…

  • avatar

    I had a 61 T Bird that did the same thing. I was constantly popping the wheel covers off and re-centering them on the valve stems. I solved the problem by selling the car. But this may not help you.

    I always attributed it to a car too heavy for its wheels, causing wheel flex. But I like the radial tire explanation too. With so much more grip, I would imagine that it makes a wheel flex problem much worse. Could your wheels be starting to flex from age and fatigue? Maybe new repro wheels would help.

    I would try to bend all of the mounting tabs first, though.

  • avatar

    On my 1960’s Mopar cars, I found that I had to bend out the tabs just a little every time I replaced a wheel cover in order to have them stay on the wheel, let alone not rotate. With the metal-to-metal contact, a little wear occurs over the years. I have a sheet-metal bending tool with 3-inch-wide jaws, which is quicker, but a pliers gets the job done.

  • avatar

    I’m guessing he tried the bend the clips thing. It’s an obvious answer.

    The silicone is a decent suggestion too.

    If I was him I’d just get a set of tasteful aftermarket wheels from tire rack (or something like that) and stick them on there. Put the original wheels away in storage and save them. I can understand the desire to remain stock, but sometimes solving a problem means changing or upgrading as the effort required to remain original is too high.

    He doesn’t say what he uses his car for. Pleasure rides? or is it a show queen at this point? I doubt it’s a show queen since he’s talking of driving it for 50 miles.

    so take the practical route, get something tasteful and enjoy your ride instead of chasing down something that probably can’t really be fixed.

    There is a reason hubcaps have disappeared and this is one of them, the other is the hubcap popping off and having to chase it by the side of the road. Just bad technology and better has come along since then.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    The wheel covers on my Caprice have locks, but unfortunately they click. Annoying, but not as bad as spinning hubcaps.

    The silicone sounds like a good suggestion. And, for what it’s worth, kudos for keeping the hubcaps and not going with aftermarket wheels.

    • 0 avatar

      Jordan Tenenbaum: try spraying some white lithium grease to quiet your wheel cover locks. This was the advice from Pat Goss of Motorweek back in the mid-80s when wire wheel covers were popular. For some reason that segment has stayed with me all these years.

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